Friday, October 1, 2010

True story - Redux

First posted 06/08

The little boy in this picture is my Dad. The man is my Grandfather. The animal he's playing with is..........a bear. A few years ago I wrote a story about this family saga. Here is a portion of that story.

My Grandfather found an orphan bear cub in Canada while on a fishing trip with his two buddies. My father must have told us this story a hundred times. His Dad was due home from a fishing trip and .........

After dinner on the 4th day just as dusk was turning into dark, I heard the sound of crunching gravel and knew the Buick was coming down the road. I ran down the steps of the apartment, smacked my hands on the screen door and jumped onto the front stoop. I was just in time to see all three men untangle themselves from the front seat of the car. Mother wiped her hands on her apron as she walked from across the street and Ruthie, my sister, exploded out of the door behind her when she heard the men arriving.
I could tell something was different as I walked towards the car and saw all three men climbing out of the front seat. The car had a back seat and a rumble seat where they stored their bags and coolers of fish. Why hadn't one of them been in the back seat?
Smiling, I ran towards Dad, because I had missed him badly and I was hoping I could carry a pickerel or two into the kitchen. Uncharacteristically he held out his hand and told me to stop.
"Billy,” he said firmly, "Stand back, we have a bear in the rumble seat."
It was as if an invisible wall erected itself around the car. Mother, Ruthie and I stopped dead in our tracks, shock frozen on our faces, each of our brains trying to decide what it was we just heard Dad say.
Mother finally broke the silence. "Ray Marshall,” she said deliberately, “if you have a bear in that rumble seat you can just turn this car around and drive back to Canada.” I heard Mother's words but when I looked at her, I saw that her mouth was barely moving. She was talking slowly and precisely through her firmly clenched jaw.
My mother was a big woman and when she was mad, she would gather herself upright so that her full height and weight became massive. She was that way now and as I looked down at her side, I saw that, as she was slowly talking, she was pushing Ruthie under her arm and behind her back. Why hadn't she bothered to push me behind her back, I wondered?
It was a fleeting thought. My attention was quickly drawn back to Dad and his two friends. Dad was not about to be told what to do in front of them. It was one thing to nod in agreement at the dinner table but quite another to acquiesce in front of the men. Danny and Paul were looking at their feet nervously kicking stones while the silence and locked eyes between Mother and Dad seemed to last forever and probably would have had not a muffled adolescent growl penetrated the night. The moment was shattered and all eyes turned to the rumble seat. Dad, Danny, and Paul gathered around the handle of the hatch and with slow deliberate movements, Dad lifted it.....

My Dad would go on to tell us that his Dad kept the bear in the basement for almost one year, bringing it out once a day for a walk and fresh air. They fed it scraps from the table each night and hauled buckets of waste out each day.
My Grandfather owned one of the first gas stations west of the Mississippi River and on Sundays he'd put on a leather football helmet and he'd put a leash and a muzzle on the bear. Then, in the parking lot of the gas station he'd have a boxing match with the bear. It was quite a show and my Grandmother would sell pop and beer from the little convenience store they also owned across the street.
Finally, when it got too big they gave it to a little traveling circus. The bear died shortly after that.

The Allegory of the Cookie - Redux

First posted 04/08

In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Plato likens people untutored in the Theory of Forms to prisoners chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave. Behind them burns a fire. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects, that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see. Such prisoners would mistake appearance for reality.
Got that?
In Allegory of the Cookie, what appeared to be a good chocolate chip cookie all these years was really you mistaking appearance for reality. The reality is, this recipe I'm about to demonstrate for you is the best chocolate chip cookie ever.
It's true.
Whenever I make these people say, "This is the best chocolate chip cookie ever".
They do.
They say that.

So let's get this party started...

First, the usual suspects.

Now, the first secret ingredient.

Then the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, baking soda and flour.

Next, Nestle's Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and......

The second secret ingredient, Nestle's White Chocolate Chips!

Then the baking......

And finally, the eating. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Try these and your reality will never be the same.

Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Ever

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 (3.4 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
*4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
*4 cups white chocolate chips
2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
This recipe makes about 6 dozen cookies.

*I always put equal amounts of chocolate and white chocolate chips in the recipe.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour and baking soda, set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Beat in the instant pudding mix until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop cookies by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Edges should be golden brown.

The Garden Chair - Redux

First posted 05/07

I made this garden chair last month. With the help of a friend we actually made three. They are simple to make and I'll tell you how we made ours. We kicked out the seats of the old chairs we found in my friend's garage. We cleaned them and very haphazardly spray painted them white. We sanded some of the white off here and there because...actually I don't know why we sanded. I guess we were making them look older and more worn. This is why it was so fun, there are no rules for making a garden chair.

Anyway, then we made a well with screen material from the hardware store fastening it with a staple gun. We put some Spanish moss around the edges to hide all the staple gun mistakes and we put some hot glue around to seat to hold the Spanish moss in place. Then we lined the well with sphagnum moss, filled it with potting soil and then planted our favorite summer flowers.
Viola, a garden chair!

We had a ball making three and we took one to another friend's house and put it in her garden. She wasn't home. She was at her father's funeral and we thought the chair would be a nice remembrance of him for her.

When I finished my chair and placed it in my garden something happened. It looked beautiful sitting quietly on the edge of my garden and as I stepped back from it to get a different perspective it immediately became Patti's chair.

Patti, a dear sweet cousin, died at age 50 of Ovarian cancer on February 8, 2007. She was beautiful, quietly graceful, extremely bright and a joy to be around.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

In the Blink of an Eye a brother and sister grow up - Redux

First posted 04/08







In the blink of an eye.

Fear of Flying - Redux

First posted 07/07

I don't like to fly, but I have two children; one lives in the midwest and one lives on the east coast, and since I live between them, I have no choice. I must overcome my fear of flying if I want to see my kids.

So, I fly. But each time I do, something happens that makes me very anxious. It's always nothing, but I make it into something in my mind, so that by the time I get on the plane I'm out of control with fear. I never show it, though. If you saw me get on a plane you'd think I was just an ordinary person doing what thousands of ordinary people do everyday. But inside, my heart is pounding and I'm a mess.

Here's what happened the last time I went to see my daughter.
I arrived two hours early for my 7AM flight, just like the Department of Homeland Security has advised us to do. Around 6:45 the gate person announced the flight would be delayed for two hours due to mechanical difficulties. I hate it when they tell me that. When they say mechanical difficulties I immediately begin to imagine an engine falling off because an under-paid and over-worked mechanic didn't tighten one screw. Or, the door latch isn't working properly and the door will explode open when we reach cruising altitude immediately sucking out anything and anyone not properly secured.

Of course in my smart mind, I'm hoping it's a broken wheel on the beverage cart, or the toilet is clogged, but it's never that easy in my irrational mind, which takes on a life of it's own, and I can't control the thoughts that form there.

About an hour later we're told the plane actually hasn't even arrived yet because the difficulties happened at another city and our delay would now be another hour. Great, another hour for my mind to imagine all sorts of disasters due to mechanical difficulties. Finally the plane did arrive and unfortunately since I was facing the window, I caught a quick glimpse of it, two propellers and all. Then there was another one hour delay for the "part" to arrive and be cart wheel, I'm hoping.

At 11AM the gate person said we could board the plane. With all the serious worrying I was doing, I hadn't noticed there were only about 20 people sitting around me waiting to get on my plane. When we boarded, we left the waiting area, walked down the enclosed boarding ramp and out onto the tarmac! I hate it when I have to board a plane that way. I hate to see the plane from the outside. If I only see the inside I can pretend I'm on a bus, but when I've seen it from the outside, two propellers and all, there's no chance of erasing that image from my irrational mind. I reached the stairway of the plane and saw that one propeller was being held in place by a bungee cord attached to the railing of the stairs to the plane. Doesn't that sound sort of crude to you? I mean, come on people, we're in the 21st century here, surely they have ways to keep propellers still with something more high-tech than a bungee cord? Were they afraid it would begin spinning on its own and take off, my mind wondered? See? These are the kinds of thoughts I can't control.

Anyway, I got on the very small plane and found my seat, directly across from the flight attendant. This was a good sign, I thought. I always look to the crew when I panic. They continue to be busy and nonchalant during each bump or strange sound. The flight attendant did the usual "in the case of an emergency" talk and then turned to me and the person sitting across from me and said, "You two are in the emergency seats and will be able to help me if I need you, right?" I didn't realize I was assigned that seat and would never have volunteered for it. I didn't want to make a fuss, because we had waited four hours just to get on the plane, so I kept quiet. We both nodded yes we would help, but my irrational mind was thinking, ah-huh, when hell freezes over.

Anyway, here's the big finish. All our seat belts were properly secured (the bungees were off and the propellers were spinning about two feet from my head outside my window) and we began taxiing down the runway.

It's about here in all my flights when I shut my eyes and pretend to be at peace. Ha! I'm really counting to 300 because I've found that's the number when the take off feeling is over and the plane begins to level off. It was a bumpy take off and I opened one eye to get that visual image of the cool, calm and collected flight attendant so I could get this plane and me off the ground without having a complete breakdown.

But what did I see? I was knee to knee with her (small plane, remember?) and saw that she had grabbed the sides of her seat with both hands. Her eyes were so tightly closed that her face was crunched up and she appeared to be praying! Yeah, praying! Okay sure, she probably wasn't praying and we made it to LaGuardia just fine, but I practically had to fly the plane myself (in my mind, but it's almost the same) because clearly I wasn't getting any help from the flight attendant who never left her seat or looked up from the book she was reading, except when she got on the intercom to tell us she wouldn't be leaving her seat to serve us anything due to the turbulence expected for the entire trip. Amen and Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tangerine Tea and Gumdrops Redux

First posted 01/09

I've been in the teaching business for 20+ years and I've seen plenty of funny things, sad things, poignant things, and you know, just........ things.

Due to this vast experience, I'm good at quickly assessing a situation and acting appropriately without ticking off anybody. I'm smooth like that.

But today I guess I just wasn't on my game. While walking through the halls during my free period I noticed a student sitting on the floor outside a classroom. His hoodie covered most of his face and the rest of his head was buried in his knees he had pulled up to his chest and wrapped his arms around.

I always stop to talk to students who seem to be in places they shouldn't be, because you just never know what's up with kids these days.

Our conversation went like this:

Me: Hey, are you okay?
Him: (Slowly looking up from under the hoodie.) Yeah
Me: Do you need anything?
Him: Nope
Me: How about a glass of water...(and in a moment of insanity or stupidity, I said) or a cup of tea?
Him: (Thinking for a micro second) Yeah, a cup of tea would be nice.
Me: Okay

I'm into the Republic of Tea this winter and it just so happened that I brought a few tea bags of my new favorite flavor, tangerine, to school. So, I went to the English department office kitchen and made this kid a cup of tangerine tea.

It was at this moment that my fantasy-camp mind started charging up and I began thinking, who knows, maybe my cup of tea will be the life-changing event for this kid and someday he'll remember what I did for him and thank me on national TV.

Don't judge me...okay? I can't stop the fantasy camp once it gets going.

Anyway, as I made the tea I noticed a dish of gumdrops on the counter, dry and hard and leftover from the holidays, but who cared? This poor kid clearly needed a pick-me-up.

I thought I'll just take a few for him. He seemed like he was having a bad day...and you know, in my mind, the gumdrops would be the icing on the cake. In twenty years he would definitely want to name a building after me.

So out to the hall I went, all pleased with myself and served this kid tangerine tea and gumdrops to make his day a little brighter. 'Cause there's nothing like sugar to put the "bright" in a kid's day.

Please hold your applause until the very end.

I went back to my desk in the English office intent on tackling the mid-terms and mountain of papers I had to grade. Five minutes passed and suddenly the office door flew open and a fellow English teacher with my tea and my gumdrops in his hand literally stomped past me and into the kitchen. He threw the gumdrops in the garbage and tossed the tea in the sink.

Intuitive person that I am, I asked:

Me: Mr. X are you okay? What's wrong?
Mr. X: (Talking between clenched teeth) I threw a kid out of class for totally unacceptable behavior and told him to sit on the floor in the hall for a while. Then some teacher came by and gave him gumdrops and tea!!
Me: (With my best wide-eyed, concerned look thinking, it was TANGERINE tea) Really? Oh gee, Hmmm...

I lowered my head, put pencil to paper as fast as I could and started grading papers with a fury the likes of which I've never done before.

A punch of air filled the office as the door slammed shut.